Failure to DISCLOSE

The Democrats’ signature campaign finance bill failed in the Senate on a cloture vote on July 27. After a contentious road to final passage in the House on July 24, the act needed a supermajority of 60 affirmative votes to invoke cloture, leading to passage, but was only able to gain 57 votes.

The vote broke down on party lines, with no Republicans crossing the aisle, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) absent, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), voting no in order to preserve the majority’s right of cloture. The Act provoked strong reactions – supporters hyped the bill’s ability to “overturn” the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign finance decision, while opponents decried the legislation’s stifling of First Amendment political speech rights.

To pass the contentious legislation in the House earlier this summer, Democrats created an exemption that allowed a few large advocacy nonprofits to bypass the bill’s disclosure requirements. In order to qualify, the groups had to have at least 500,000 members, among other things; qualifying groups included the National Rifle Association (for which the “carve out” was patched together), AARP and Sierra Club.

Sierra spokesman David Willett said that despite falling under the exemption, the organization is against the bill. “We opposed the idea of a two-tier system. The irony is, the bigger groups like NRA and Sierra Club have the resources to … handle the additional disclosure requirements” found in the bill, he said. “We just feel the rule should apply to everybody, so we remained opposed. [The exemption] is not in line with the spirit and goals of the bill.”

When the bill was first introduced, the NRA stated its opposition and announced its intention fight vigorously for its First Amendment rights. Shortly after the organization’s stance on the bill became known, House Democrats crafted the initial exemption. When the exemption became public, the outcry caused Democrats to revise the original language to include other qualifiers, widening slightly the applicable-organization pool.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NM) vowed to continue the push on the DISCLOSE Act; however, with lawmakers leaving DC for August recess, new action is delayed until at least September.

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